Ruminations on the Digital Realm

Jan Stedehouder

8 reasons why Linux won't make it to the desktop

The Linux Proliferation Agreement is intended as a means to promote the use of Linux on the desktop and asks endusers to become structurally involved in making Linux visible in the public domain. Apart from the support there came a wide range of counterarguments of things that Linux would need to change before it would ever become a viable choice. Let’s look into the counterarguments, summarized in the 8 reasons why Linux won’t ever make it to the desktop. But do they stop the Linux Proliferation Agreement as well?

(1) Some programs are not available for Linux
Correct. No question about that. For the most part programs from the Adobe/Macromedia suites were mentioned, but no doubt there are more programs for which there is no suitable Linux counterpart yet. If you use these programs intensively on a day to day basis the migration to Linux is cumbersome. But let’s not forget a few things. This problem is valid for a group of endusers, but hardly for all. Not everyone is a Dreamweaver or Photoshop power user. Most software has far more functionalities than are used from day to day or even regularly by the largest group of users. When promoting W2L migration we should focus on the functionalities actually used, instead of the programs as integrated packages. In those cases where the software is intensively used we have two possible solutions: emulation (which can not be called ’emulation’, so maybe ‘pretendization’ is better) and virtualization. The mentioned Adobe/Macromedia suites are in one way or another supported by Wine and CrossOver Office. Virtualization through VirtualBox, Xen or VMware gives desktop access to a Windows installation and the software that requires it. Yes, it might require the investment in extra RAM, but that is hardly expensive in exchange for saving all other proprietary (and paid for) software by open source counterparts.

(2) Linux is not a platform for games
Correct as well, but should that stop the Linux Proliferation Agreement? Vista isn’t really a gaming platform as well, but who is stopped by that? Gaming is used as a benchmark and it is a multibillion industry, but in the end it is only a part of day to day use of computers. And hardcore gaming only influences a niche of users, a niche that has people that won’t mind paying € 600,– for a new graphics card in order to play a game that will be released next month. No doubt an interesting group from the perspective of the hardware industry, but hardly representative of most endusers.
Now, there is something strange with the hardware requirements of PC games as well. I remember Thief 3. When it was released, it could be played (officially) on a very limited range of graphics cards (which, mind you, didn’t bother the hardcore gamers). However, the xBox version had the same graphical effects on a console that has far lower hardware specifications. Is it strange when I ask myself how this is possible? Could it be that the hardware specifications and the OS limitations are more artificial than actual?
Anyway, the number of games released for Linux is limited in comparison to Windows. Cedega provides a limited solution for some of the most popular games. But should that stop us? Should this prevent the use of Linux in schools? Should we hold back in properly educating and empowering endusers because of it?

(3) Linux needs a unified desktop
Having used Windows for years I can understand the argument. Quite a few endusers panic when the icon is no longer in the same place. Endusers are trained in using the Windows GUI, but how many users are actually able to find the various system tools and use them? The majority can’t and don’t care.
Linux is different. Linux doesn’t equate the GUI with the operating system. What you do and don’t do with the GUI is a matter of personal preference, an expression of your personal identity. A unified desktop seems like a good solution, but it isn’t. Proper education and training in the use of Linux is. It will provide the endusers with a choice and a freedom to use the computer as they see fit. As we see fit.

(4) Linux should drop the commandline stuff
I don’t hope so. It would mean that the GUI has become the operating system and that my choices have become limited. Recently I gave a workshop “Installing software under Ubuntu Linux” to a group of about 20 endusers. They had little previous experience with Linux, but a substantial number had experience with DOS. We started the workshop with Install/Remove…, moved on to Synaptic and continued with apt-get and aptitude. The participants learned four ways to manage software on Debian-like systems. The commandline stuff could be repeated and understood more rapidly than than the GUI alternatives and most went home feeling empowered to move on with Linux. The commandline is less scary when properly explained. Understanding the commandline does prevent a lot of “it won’t work anymore”s when the GUI is frozen.

(5) Linux needs better hardware support
It does. But did anyone install Vista recently? And, did it work? Did all of it work? Could you install all software? No, we couldn’t. Yes, there is a need for improvement. There are too many accounts of monitorsettings not being correct out of the box, of wifi being hard to get working etc. etc. There are solutions for most hardware problems. In my early Linux days I had to buy a new external modem, since my winmodem wasn’t supported. Before that I didn’t even know a winmodem existed. My old iMac also gave me some headaches with x, but searching the internet provided the proper solutions. See, empowerment does help.
One thing should not be forgotten. When the number of endusers reach a critical mass this problem will be moot. We have to educate the endusers to buy the proper hardware, hardware that has “Linux compatible” on the box. The market forces will take care of the rest of the problem.

(6) Linux needs to get better first
It needs to and it will. But that doesn’t change the basic skills we need to use and troubleshoot Linux on a day to day base, hence the basic skills we need to teach new groups of endusers. Besides, with a larger group of empowered and involved endusers we will see more and better bug reports which will aid the developers.
But what are the areas for Linux to improve? Which functionalities are now non-existent that make most applications unfit for day 2 day use? Yes, there are gaps, but those are not relevant to the largest groups of endusers. For some (even quite a few) lacking a decent Thunderbird- Exchange server connector is a serious problem. However, should this prevent us to promote the use of Thunderbird in all other organizations that don’t use Exchange server?

(7) Linux is too splintered
The Linux world knows many, many distributions. Software needs to be offered in various shapes and sizes (RPM, DEB, tarball etc.) and we might want to keep our fingers crossed even then. Managing software through the distribution’s own repositories won’t cause too many headaches, but a little venture outside the trotted path gives us a serious migraine. The various communities are -alas- equally divided. With religious fervor users defend their own distribution, calling down heavenly fires upon the other distributions and ostracizing those from within who are not as ‘pure’.
Honestly, I don’t have much use for this kind of involvement. Endusers aren’t bothered with distribution A of B, or with softwaremanagementtool X, Y or Z. They are doing their work and use programs to finish their tasks. Most of them hardly care whether the runs on Windows, Ubuntu, Fedora, Mepis or Mac OS X. It doesn’t matter and it shouldn’t stop promoting the use of Linux and open source software. We do need proper IT-education and that is exactly what the Linux Proliferation Agreement is about. Endusers can learn to deal with the choices Linux provide. Compare that to gaming. When was the last t
ime hardcore gamers compla
ined that a game could only be played on the xBox and not a Playstation 3. They don’t (or at least don’t stop gaming because of it), because they understand the system. Education it is.

(8) Linux is a philosophy
Fortunately it is. Linux is build around the principles of cooperation, transparency, participation and free distribution. Call me an idealist, but I can’t find much of a flaw in these principles. When things go wrong in the Linux world it goes wrong when individuals or groups forget these principles.

In the end I appreciate the discussion and the arguments against the viability of Linux and/or the Linux Proliferation Agreement. Most likely there are more counterarguments and I look forward to hearing them. But one thing is clear to me as well: there is nothing seriously hindering the advance of Linux from a technical perspective.

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4 thoughts on “8 reasons why Linux won't make it to the desktop

  1. Plato on said:

    In general, I agree. I think, that the biggest problem is applications. For example, I am involved in teaching and I need to prepare presentations for lectures. Normally I do it in MS Powerpoint. When I migrated to linux hoped that I was able to do the same in open office impress, but, alas, it did not work. Now I have dual boot Debian with WinXP, and the only reason for windows being on my hard disk is power point. I hope that it will not last long.

  2. JayDoubleM on said:

    These are reasons why Linux will never be like windows but not reasons for why people wouldnt want to run Linux as their Desktop OS

  3. Coqauvin on said:

    That Linux will never be like Windows is a fine.

    Linux has improved tremendously from its beginning with respect to new users. The average user has all the applications he needs to do his bidding under Linux (OpenOffice or NeoOffice will furnish most tools needed by teachers or students).

    If only your book was translated into English… 😉

  4. Well, I have been thinking about it and once the book is finished I intend to re-write part of it in English and add it to the “final” version of the Ubuntu W2L edition DVD as an ebook.

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